Friday, August 27, 2010

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

This may seem like an odd question to those who are grounded in the weekly experience of worship. But for New Testament scholars it is an important one. When and how soon did the early followers of Jesus begin to worship him? The question is particularly pertinent when considered within the context of the New Testament era. Christianity began, by and large, as a Jewish movement . The Jewish people were tenacious in their adherence to monotheism, as evidenced by their recital of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 at least twice a day. So the embrace of Jesus as "God," as a being deserving of "worship" would not have been an easy leap for many. There was no trinitarian concept and the major theological debates of the first-century were working themselves out over the years. Thus it is not clear how soon early followers of Jesus fully developed their understanding of the person of Jesus as divine.

New Testament scholars have spilled a lot of ink on this topic. Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham and J.D.G. Dunn are just some of the voices that have weighed-in. While Hurtado and Bauckham tend to argue that Jesus was an object of worship early on in church history, Dunn is more tentative often arguing for what is sometimes called an "early low Christology" in the New Testament. Recently, Dunn has made another contribution: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus, which was released in the USA in July by Westminster John Knox Press. Dunn looks at the evidence and presents his own conclusions while in conversation with the works of Hurtado, Bauckham and others.

I have not yet had a chance to read the book, but Larry Hurtado has just posted his review of the book published in the Journal of Theological Studies. Hurtado provides an overview of each chapter with some critical interaction. I plan to order my copy from Amazon today.


  1. I think this is a very interesting question. I have thought about the Jewish idea of "one God" and wondered how that evolved to include Jesus as God. This seems like quite a shift to me... but I didn't realize there was this much discussion on the subject.
    Maybe you will blog more about this in the future? (or I could just break down and buy the book)

  2. Jill,

    Thanks for your comment. Perhaps I will do a few posts in this in the future.